The Bears saved $5.31 million in salary and bonuses for the coming season by terminating defensive tackle Tommie Harris' contract. Harris was due a base salary of $2.31 million, a roster bonus of $2.5 million on June 1 and a workout bonus of $500,000.
The Bears also cut linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer, who missed 15 games last season as the result of a concussion in a preseason game, and veteran backup offensive tackle Kevin Shaffer.
The 6-3, 295-pound Harris earned a four-year $40 million contract extension on June 19, 2008 after being voted to the Pro Bowl in the three previous seasons, when he had 16 sacks and used his combination of strength and quickness to frequently disrupt opposing backfields.
DT Tommie Harris
Harris, the Bears' first-round pick in 2004 (14th overall), was never the same player after getting the big payday, which contained $10 million in bonus money the first year of the deal and $6.67 in bonuses in the second year. But he never played anywhere close to his salary.
His release was not a surprise. Late last week at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo declined to discuss specific players in regard to the postseason evaluations that had already begun. But he said: "When you talk about players, you're always talking about their contracts, you're talking about their performance, you're talking about their attitude and how it applies to the team."
Simply put, Harris' production did not match his paycheck.
Knee and hamstring injuries limited his practice and playing time in 2008 and '09, although he missed just three games in two years and managed five sacks in '08. Last year, Harris didn't miss any training camp practices and was healthy for most of the season, but his production continued to decline.
The 2010 season was the least productive of Harris' seven seasons with the Bears. He finished 15th on the team with 18 tackles, including just seven solos, and he had a career-low 1.5 sacks. Hillenmeyer was originally a fifth-round draft choice of the Packers in 2003 out of Vanderbilt, where he led the nation as a senior with an average of 14 tackles per game. The Academic All-American was cut by the Packers before the start of the regular season, but he was signed to the Bears' practice squad.
Hillenmeyer wound up playing in 101 games with 69 starts for the Bears. When six-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher suffered a season-ending dislocated wrist in the 2009 season opener, Hillenmeyer stepped in to start 13 games and was second on the team with a career-best 105 tackles.
The 6-4, 238-pound Hillenmeyer started 11 or more games in five of his eight seasons with the Bears, but he also suffered multiple concussions along the way.
Shaffer was signed by the Bears in March of 2009 after being cut by the Browns, where he started 47 of 48 games from 2006-08. He started five games for the Bears in '09 and two early last season, all at right tackle, before he was replaced by rookie J'Marcus Webb, who started the final 12 games and appears to be a fixture for the future.
Off season strategy
Re-signing center Olin Kreutz is presumed to be the Bears' top priority among their players who are expected to be unrestricted free agents.
After that, DT Anthony Adams has been a starter more often than not over the previous four seasons and is a reliable, proven commodity, although he is not irreplaceable. P Brad Maynard lacks a big leg and is 37 years old, but he is a very good directional kicker. But the Bears have invited Richmond McGee to training camp the past two years, and he could be the heir apparent.
TE Desmond Clark was phased out last season, his 12th in the NFL, and he is not expected back. Neither is 39-year-old QB Todd Collins, who has outlived his usefulness. S Josh Bullocks, LB Rod Wilson and RB Garrett Wolfe are also not expected to return.
At linebacker, Pisa Tinoisamoa has missed 18 games the past two years with knee injuries, and he would only be back with a one-year deal at best. Nick Roach has filled in admirably for Tinoisamoa and is younger and healthier, so he would seem to be the higher priority.
WR Rashied Davis, CB Corey Graham, LB Brian Iwuh and S Danieal Manning are all valuable special teams players, which carries a lot of weight with Lovie Smith and the coaching staff. Manning was also a 16-game starter at strong safety.
Medical Watch: No updates.
Franchis Player: None.
Transition Player: None.
Players Resigned: None.
Players Acquired: None.
--DT Tommie Harris (released).
--LB Hunter Hillenmeyer (released).
--OT Kevin Shaffer (released).
--QB Matt Gutierrez: FA; terms unknown.
--NT Tank Tyler: FA; terms unknown.
Bear Report: The only publication exclusively dedicated to your Chicago Bears.